Clay-pot catfish at Falansai
Spicy tomato-coconut chicken at Falansai
Beef satay at Falansai
Crab spring rolls at Bunker
Cha ca at Bunker
Chicken pho at Nightingale 9
Pork shoulder banh mi at Saiguette
Curry seafood pot at Saiguette
Pho at Saiguette
As of late, Korean, Chinese and Thai riffs have all taken a turn in the gastro-hype spotlight. Now, another Asian cuisine comes to the fore: New Vietnamese restaurants are breaking out of the traditional banh mi mold. From Ridgewood to Carroll Gardens, chefs are putting their own spins on the cuisine. Find Far East flavors updated with refined techniques and farm-to-table ingredients at these Vietnamese spots.
Vietnamese food is more than pho and banh mi, a fact Henry Trieu has been proving since his years at San Francisco’s acclaimed Slanted Door. At his aqua-hued bistro—a charming sit-down affair opened in April—the Saigon native showcases the cross-pollinated cuisine of his hometown, a rich blend of Chinese and French influences. While Edith Piaf croons over the stereo, Bushwick locals tuck into Chinese-inflected cha tom ($7), crispy, compact nuggets of sweet shrimp, jicama and shiitake mushrooms wrapped in tofu paper; and elegant slips of sautéed eggplant ($9), coated in silky coconut curry and lemongrass sprigs, over glasses of Finger Lakes riesling. Catfish kho ($15) comes the traditional way, in a bubbling clay pot, flaky white fillets rendered mahogany brown after an hour-long simmer in nuoc màu (bittersweet caramel sauce).
With its blaring hip-hop and skater dudes manning the woks, this thatch-trimmed bungalow, which debuted in January, may seem more Brooklyn than Queens. The second you bite into the Saigon Special ($6.75), you might wish it resided there, too, instead of way-out-there Ridgewood. The sandwich is a swine lover’s dream in house-made cha lua ham, crispy bacon, cinnamon-heavy sausage and five-spice pork pâté with a sriracha kick—the handiwork of Thai-born brothers Jimmy and Jacky Tu, who earned their stripes at Eleven Madison Park and Korilla BBQ, respectively. And the siblings dispatch plenty of other trekworthy street eats, both traditional—seared bo luc lac beef cubes crowned with toasted peanuts and fried garlic ($11)—and modern: Crab spring rolls come sheathed in Chinese egg-roll wrappers instead of standard rice paper ($7.50).
You wouldn’t guess it from his track record, but Robert Newton, the Arkansas expat behind Southern spots Seersucker and Smith Canteen, is a full-fledged Vietnamese-food geek. At his bare-bones eatery in Carroll Gardens, opened in February, Newton unites his all-American roots with Far East flavors: Crispy catfish tenders in the dill-flecked cha ca la vong ($12) have the salty, battered quality of Kentucky-fried chicken; fried jasmine rice ($9) gets a church-basement makeover with country ham, luscious lard and peppery mustard greens; and bottles of bourbon-barrel-aged soy sauce—flown in from Louisville, Kentucky—can be found on each table.
Presentation is not the draw of this uptown sandwich shop, slicing old-school, Saigon-style banh mi (you won’t find any fried-egg or papaya-salad toppings here) since it opened in August 2012. Orders are unceremoniously shoved out in plastic bags from a small window beside the steamy, bustling kitchen, packed with tall Tupperware brimming with beef broth and Ziploc bags of pungent basil leaves, lime wedges and bean sprouts. But then you start combining the bag’s contents, and magically, a plastic bowl of startlingly good pho ($9) is before you, with supple, paper-thin slices of rare brisket, slurpworthy rice noodles, crunchy slivers of raw onion and a bold dash of hoisin-sriracha sauce. Underneath haphazardly wrapped foil hides lofty baguettes crammed with tender, charred lemongrass pork shoulder ($9), crispy bits of caramelized fat sticking to the tangy carrot-cucumber slaw and sriracha-chili mayo slathered on top. It ain’t pretty, but it sure is tasty. 212-866-6888, saiguette.com
Cowboy hats, wagon wheels and vintage American flags decorate this East Harlem honky-tonk. With a mile-long menu of every variety of barbecued meat, Harley’s Smokeshack is a carnivore’s dream come true. The St. Louis spare ribs (half rack for $18.95, full rack for $29.95), brisket ($18.95), pulled pork ($17.95) and half barbecue chicken ($17.95) all get cooked in the wood-burning Southern Pride smoker to lock in that authentic flavor. Can’t decide? Get it all in the aptly named “table breaker,” plus your choice of three large sides ($49.95). Think mac and cheese ($6.95), spicy greens ($5.95), garlic bread ($3.95) and corn on the cob ($3.95), to name just a few of the options. Then there’s the rest of the menu of classic crowd-pleasers: jalapeno poppers ($8.95), deep fried buttermilk chicken breast ($16.95), cornmeal-crusted catfish po’boy ($15.95), gumbo ($8.95) and more. Thankfully, there’s also a full beer, wine and cocktail menu to help you wash it all down.
Venue says: “This year have your private party at Harley's Smokeshack + BBQ. Book Now (212)-828-6723.”